Monday, October 31, 2022

My (Almost) Self-Driving Car

Earlier in the year, I bought a new car, a Honda CR-V. It has two remarkable features that make me think the self-driving car is perhaps a bit closer than I thought.

The first feature is LKAS, which stands for Lane Keeping Assist System. It uses a windshield mounted camera to identify lane markers, and if the car drifts from the center, it applies some torque to the steering wheel to guide the driver to adjust the car.

When I first tested this on the highway, the steering wheel felt tight and somewhat locked. It took a few moments before I realized that LKAS was keeping the car centered by holding the steering wheel appropriately. When I got more comfortable I actually let go of the steering wheel, but after a few seconds the dashboard flashed a "steering required" warning. Still, the feature lets me keep a lighter touch on the steering wheel, making highway driving more bearable.

The second feature is ACC, which is Adaptive Cruise Control. I've always been a fan of cruise control but in my previous car the cruise control keeps the car at the selected speed. If you needed to slow down because the car ahead of you is going slightly slower, you had to disengage cruise control and drive. With ACC, the Honda modifies the speed based on the car ahead of you. If the car ahead slows down or even stops, the ACC controls the speed such that I never have to touch the brake!

The ACC feature has made long highway trips much more pleasant for me. In heavy traffic, I experienced the car slowing down to a full stop. After sitting idle, the car acts as if it was at a stop light and shuts off the engine. This is the Idle-Stop feature. When the car ahead moves, I tap the accelerator to take it out of Idle-Stop, and the car resumes driving.

Both features let me think that the car was driving me, instead of the other way around. Of course it's not entirely hands-free. I still have to navigate and steer! But both features made me think that self-driving cars are getting closer to reality. These two features coupled with anti-collision give me a strong sense of safety. (I only recommend these systems for highway driving only.)

Each iteration of the "smart car" is about the human helping the computer drive. One day, it'll be fully autonomous!


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